Comedian Phyllis Diller Had Us Laughing For Decades

Comedian Phyllis Diller died Monday at the age of 95. Diller trademarks included a quirky wardrobe, a signature cackle and one-liners about a fictional husband, who she called "Fang."

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Okay. It can be a sensitive matter to mention a woman's age, but if people failed to mention it, Phyllis Diller was liable to bring it up herself. Diller died at home in Los Angeles yesterday at the age of 95, after decades of making people laugh by poking fun at herself, as she did in this stand-up performance in 2004.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHYLLIS DILLER: You know you're old when your walker has an airbag.

(LAUGHTER)

DILLER: And your birthday cake looks like a prairie fire.

(LAUGHTER)

DILLER: And your birth certificate is on a scroll.

(LAUGHTER)

DILLER: Halley's Comet goes over and you say, there it goes again.

(LAUGHTER)

DILLER: Somebody compliments you on your alligator shoes, and you're barefoot.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That was her final stand-up performance, the end of a career that lasted for decades, even though she started late. Born Phyllis Ada Driver in Lima, Ohio, she didn't get into comedy until she was 37 years old and married with five kids.

INSKEEP: Her husband was chronically unemployed, and though she called herself a born comic, she told the Archive of American Television that it was just poverty that drove her to start performing.

DILLER: Remember, I'm motivated by money. I've got these children, and no home. Homeless family of seven for five years. That was my motivation.

INSKEEP: The motivation worked. Phyllis Diller went on to perform on "The Ed Sullivan Show." She appeared with the likes of Bob Hope and Sammy Davis, Jr., in films and on television. She performed on Broadway as Dolly in "Hello Dolly."

GREENE: Diller was also a self-described good cook, an accomplished painter, a classical pianist, and a singer. Here she is singing "Smile," in a recording from earlier this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMILE")

DILLER: Smile as though your heart is aching, smile even though it's breaking.

INSKEEP: Phyllis Diller was almost 90 when she talked with NPR's Scott Simon about growing old.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DILLER: Look at all the old comics who lived to be a hundred. I can name two - George Burns, Bob Hope. Milton Berle, 96. What do you think keeps them alive? Laughter. Comedy.

INSKEEP: Phyllis Diller laughed on the way to age 95 and kept many other people laughing along the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SMILE")

DILLER: ...smile, what's the use of crying. You'll find that life is still worthwhile, if you'll just smile.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.